Move Your Body to Keep Your Mind Sharp

Do the Brain Benefits of Exercise Last?

It is well established that exercise bolsters the structure and function of the brain. Multiple animal and human studies have shown that a few months of moderate exercise can create new neurons, lift mood and hone memory and thinking.

But few studies have gone on to examine what happens next. Are these desirable brain changes permanent? Or, if someone begins exercising but then stops, does the brain revert to its former state, much like unused muscles slacken?

Researchers studied the effects of stopping exercise on rats by putting them through a maze after a period of in-activity. The longer the rats went without exercising, the greater the time needed to complete the maze.

The animals inactive for three or six weeks also performed far worse on the water maze test than the animals that had been inactive for only a single week. In fact, their memories were about as porous of those of the control animals, “indicating,” the authors write, “that the exercise-induced benefits may be transient.”

In other words, the brain benefits “wear off quickly,” said Dr. Michael Mazurek, a professor of neurology at McMaster, who oversaw the study. “This is analogous to what happens to muscle bulk or heart rate following exercise withdrawal.”

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So have some fun and pick an activity that you love to do. By choosing an activity you love, you will experience the benefits for a very long time.